The House Government Operations Committee approved two bills Wednesday that may drastically affect voting in Utah. HB35, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem, would create a pilot program that will make it an option to implement rank-choice and approval forms of voting in certain nonpartisan municipal elections. In rank-choice voting, the voter ranks multiple candidates for one seat from most favorable to least favorable with a numbering system. Approval voting differs from rank-choice voting in that voters mark the candidates they approve and leave the others blank.
On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the 2017 Colorado State legislative session began in Denver and with it came a proposed draft bill from Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont). The bill would give jurisdictions the option to use approval voting methods in nonpartisan elections. This will be Singer’s third attempt to get such legislation passed. The concept is simple: “Vote for as many candidates as you like, the candidate with the most votes win,” Singer says. “It’s a very positive way of voting.” House Bill 17-0608 would allow voters to check as many candidates as they like in races where political affiliations aren’t on the ballot, such as city councils and school boards. But the law would not require any jurisdictions to use such methods. “I believe that the current system is not creating a system that gives people faith in our government,” Singer says, citing the frustration many voters felt during the 2016 presidential election. “Maybe if people felt like they had more choices, they’d have more faith in our electoral process.”
In the last couple days, two new voting studies have come out of France, following the Presidential elections there. One (translation to English) and two (and also in English.) The first included a look at approval voting, and the second score voting, with a range of -2 to 2, and both suggest that France would have gotten a different, and probably better, result if they had used either of these methods. Specifically, the first study found that, if approval voting had been used in the first round, that the two candidates to advance would have been Hollande (the Socialist leader who advanced in the real election, and went on to defeat incumbent center-right President Sarkozy) and the original fourth-place finisher,François Bayrou. Bayrou is an interesting character; he came in third in the previous election, and his Democratic Union party is considered a centrist group. The study also showed that, in a head-to-head match up, Bayrou would have beaten Hollande. This is some real-world data supporting the theory that approval voting does a better job of electing centrist candidates than plurality. They examined instant runoff voting as well, but got the same result as the plurality election, supporting that theory as well.
A perpetual problem with our current voting system is that it subjects third-party candidates to charges that they are “spoilers” while forcing voters to vote strategically rather than honestly. That is, if you really like candidate C, but realize that the most likely winner is either candidate A or candidate B, you may feel obligated to vote for A to prevent a win by B.
How hard is it to get around this problem? Not hard at all — it just means considering the system that was used to vote for the first four U.S. presidents. That’s Approval Voting.